He wanted to say brash things. Let the herald of a thousand flowers drown the daylight by which they fought and the moonlight by which they buried the dead. Let us speak of brash things as if the world were not itself.
But all he could do now was hear the relentless wind grinding sand against the small hut made from the bent branches of a cord tree. He idly felt the dried blood stain along the elbow of his uniform. He was watching her as she cowered in the corner, powerless against the Dark Winds.
I came here to forget the screams of battle, which grow fainter each year. I didn’t expect to hear her ancestors scream. They sound the same, the ones I heard just today and the ones that pierced the same sky a thousand years ago.
Her given name is Shahn ‘Dra, but I call her Miriam. She makes me feel the way a girl named Miriam might make me feel, I think. She’s four feet tall with leathery skin, bulbous eyes and two wisps of antennae. Her snout is thin and long, like a an anteater. So you may find it odd that she would remind me of a girl named Miriam.
There are few human women left and they belong mostly to the farmers. Some help fill the ranks of Godfrey’s legions. Some, like Lt. Simmons, fill ours. So we don’t get to know the companionship of women.
That’s the word – companionship. She is my psychic companion. She reaches into my mind to cast away the screams that come with every losing battle. The screams of the dying. The screams of the reborn who are pushed beyond the limits of their respawn counter so that too many of us look at a broken world with crazed dread behind reddened eyes. Possessed.
Like her world, our lives have become deserts, slowly and inevitably dying. But refusing to give up.
It happens like this:
She reaches into my mind and I can feel her there, like a gardener tending her plants in a greenhouse with a fine mist of water. Humming as she tends to the furrows of my mind. It’s warm and humid and quiet and I feel like napping on a backyard lawn. It’s a type of sedation, but I feel more awake than I ever have before. The mist washes away all the dread that comes from watching the few men we have left pitch over and tremble as they grope for their last breath.
She reaches into my mind and takes it all away so all that remains is the babble of a brook where fish leap and skitter along smooth rocks. Yellow flowers that look to the sky. And a girl in a white summer dress and bonnet with a bouquet in her hands as she spins and frolics as if she were on a stage while the granite mountains thunder with applause.
The girl in the meadow smiles at me and I am lost. The illusion that I will never come back salvages what’s left of my sanity. Braces it against the storm of our endless days of dying. She is the prize for a victory I cannot remember. She is the promise that I will never hear the screams again.
And then she sings to me. While my eyes are closed and her antennae weave and dance, I can hear her voice through the wind whispering along the dry clay and sands of the Shoahn’ desert. It starts with a single angelic note which cascades into a melody that fills the sky as I watch her run through the meadow. Then, a new melody, harmonizing with the first. The girl in the meadow. She runs. Now, that low drone that is born at the end of all time. And the mountains thunder with applause.
That’s what it’s like when I come to see her and she enters my mind and sings to me. But tonight she’s cowering in the corner, shivering. Her eyes look at me, wide and terrified. Her gaze stabs right through me to pierce the night beyond. She can’t see me.
I hear her cry out in my mind. Ven ‘Dril. Ven ‘Dril. Ven ‘Dril.
Then I see it – the reason they lock away a part of themselves behind steel curtains of religious fervor. I don’t see the girl in the meadow. I don’t feel the summer sun on my face as I brush my hand along yellow flowers that look to the sky.
I see something else now, because Miriam can’t help but let it burn the world around her. She can’t control it.
And so I see the great cities crumbling behind veils of fire and smoke. The glowing clouds billowing up into a sky that will never be the same. I hear the screams of a billion Shoahn’ consumed by their own rage. I watch her tremble in the corner as she watches her world sacrifice itself on the pyre of Ven ‘Dril. A white-hot hatred so deep that I feel sick to my stomach. Not from what I see, but from what I feel radiating out from my Miriam.
I pick her up and cradle her in my arms. Her snout is lashing the air and her bulbous eyes are shivering inside their sockets. She clutches at me with the claws of her long bony fingers. Somewhere out in the night, another Shoahn’ has betrayed his oath.
Now, she is at the mercy of his Dark Winds and there is nothing she can do about it.
Except that there is. Back there, behind that curtain of will that hides away the unspeakable sin that must never again touch the conscious mind of a Shoahn’, lies the power to fight back. She can reach out across the sky and pierce her tormentor’s mind with her own daggers of hatred, regret and firestorms.
I feel my heart searing with agony as I watch her face twist against the terror and pain. “Fight back,” I tell her. “Please.”
In a weak and trembling voice, she says the only thing she can say. “It is forbidden.” She clutches harder at my uniform. I can see her trying to smile for me. Her voice rasps with a strained timbre. “I will not betray my oath.”
“He’ll kill you,” I say.
“A true Shoahn’ will die before giving up our oath.”
Her eyes are wild, her antennae whipping the air like broken wire still possessed by electricity.
“Then I will remind you of mine,” I say. “That they shall survive.”
She chokes out her words, each one clawing its way into the space between us. “That is Godfrey’s oath.”
“And now it is mine,” I say.
I lay her back down on the floor. She is whimpering and trembling. I don’t think it will ever stop. I force myself to turn away.
She is Miriam. The girl who runs through a meadow while sunlight kisses her cheeks. The girl who sings to me while mountains thunder with applause so I can remember what hope feels like.
She is the girl who keeps me alive.
I fumble with the insignia pinned to my collar. I take them off and stuff them deep inside a pocket. I am no longer a Major in the Colonial Marines.
I am the man who must find the Dark Winds.
And save my Miriam.
©2023 Michael J Lawrence
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